Win, Place, Show

The first Saturday in May always manages to sneak up on me. I mostly avoided that this year by taking the Sunday before to figure out all the clothes, shoes, bags for three fun-filled days in Louisville.

This must become habit as I avoided all the last-minute insanity and could just plunk everything in a suitcase Wednesday night.

This year we took good pals JoAnne and Larry with us, got on the plane Thursday morning–hit some weather which is NOT fun–had to circle awhile. Then ah, terra firma, how I missed you.

Our three days of Derby are packed so it’s hit the ground running. But first time for some lunch, a nice time to catch up with the excellent Brian and Sara. We’ll miss Kathy this year, but Sara–hair magician–will look out for us.

It’s cloudy, and rain’s threatening, but hey, we’re in Louisville, and it’s Derby. We’re not going to let that dampen our spirits.

Off to the hotel, unload, unpack. Whew. Let’s definitely have a drink.

Tonight is Club Night in two parts. The first, the Frazier Museum, the second at a speakeasy type club with a Steampunk theme. Let’s get this party started!

It’s always great to start seeing members of our Derby family again. Happy faces, familiar faces, welcoming hugs. The museum’s a big, airy, wonderful space for an event. A terrific place to wander or sit with a glass of champagne, catch up with Derby pals. Plenty of food if you’re hungry, and energy already bubbling like that champagne.

It’s great to see Tonya and Tammy again–these sisters, these clever, busy women organize, spearhead and guide this complex, complicated and simply fabulous event every year. We’re so grateful to be a part of it.

From the museum, it’s off to the club. Time to don our steampunk hats! This is a brick-walled, atmospheric place, and it’s packed. How we managed to find an empty table, I don’t know. There’s a steampunky mask laying on it, I assume someone left behind. I see a mask, I put it on!


More happy faces, more greetings–some impressive costumes–and just an easy good time that’s topped off with a warm cookie and ice cream at the end. Yum.

Time for bed to rest up for our very full Friday.

Jo and I are very good girls and get a little workout done in the morning. A little cardio, a little core, a little yoga. We’ve now earned all our fun and frivolity.

Sara picks us up and ten, and we wish our men good luck at the track. I give BW my pick for the Oaks before we part ways. I’ve yet to hit, in all these years, in the Fillies For The Lilies, but this may be the year. (Spoiler Alert: It’s not.)

We’re off to City Nails for mani-pedis. I love this place, another happy place, so friendly and fun. They’ve done some remodeling–new paint, new chairs, new blingy lights. It looks great. And oh boy, does it feel good to have my feet soaked and rubbed and scrubbed while we watch the races on the flat screen.

Jo asks if they do dipping, and they do. I have no idea what this is–I don’t get into a salon very often. I’m told I should try it for my mani, and okay, I’m game.

The process is freaking fascinating to me. My nails are a complete mess–keyboarding and gardening will do that. But my hands are taken in hand and transformed. Evened up, clipped, smoothed out, then covered with some sort of bonding agent that looks like clear polish. I’m getting a French, and the tips of my fingers are carefully dipped into this white powder, one at a time, then the whole nail’s dipped into a pale pink powder. A couple layers of this, and I’m amazed as I can already see the results.

Nails are buffed and smoothed, and suddenly they’re perfect. The kind of nails a woman might have if she didn’t spend hours hammering at a keyboard, then her weekends digging in dirt and pulling weeds.

I have lady hands!!

We say goodbye to the wonders of City Nails and celebrate our pretty digits at La Vin for lunch.

Louisville, I have to say, has great food, fun restaurants, cheerful service. Since I stopped touring I don’t get out and about in the world much, and Derby reminds me why this area was always one of my favorite stops when I did tour. People are just nice here.

I say the same about shopping at Rodes. Always a fun time with fun people. And I really luck out as the weather’s not looking good for Derby day and Beth has this fabulous (reversible!) topper that will scoff at the rain. As always, they have men’s shoes (size 14!) for me to choose from for BW’s traditional Father’s Day gift. I’ll add his shoes have been a big hit at Derby so far.

At the end, Beth temps me with several gorgeous scarves. I shouldn’t buy more scarves, but . . . I’ll do a purge through what I have. Plus one will go so well with my new topper.

Thanks, ladies, and see you next year.

Sara zips us back to the hotel. It’s gala night, and we need hair!

The guys aren’t back yet, so we extend our just girls time with hair and makeup. As Cathy at City Nails transformed my nails, Sara transforms my hair. A little fun and glamour.

Our men return with reports they did okay at the track–and more they had a great time. The rain’s held off, or mostly. We even saw some peeks of sun now and then. But now it’s time to suit up for Unbridled Eve. Gowns and tuxes and sparkles for the gala, a great time that benefits a great cause in Blessings In A Backpack.

Our pals Isabel and Steven join us for an interlude in our suite before we all head down. It’s so good to see them! More Happy Derby time. And we all look pretty terrific.

Brian’s waiting to escort us down to the Red Carpet, the big ballroom, the silent auction (I’ve already picked my goals there!)

Everyone looks gorgeous in a gorgeous space. The flowers, the lights, the sparkles! At the end of the Red Carpet, my pals have a glass of champagne waiting for me. That’s why they’re my pals! I have to do a walk-through the silent auction area, and note there are a couple other things that might deserve a few bids from me. Good cause, after all.

Red Carpet ready

Sara and her Mike join us at our table, as do the fabulous Mike Mills (R.E.M.) and his fiancee Jasmine. We’re a very happy group, and I’m pretty excited that Mike’s going to perform later. In all the years we’ve come, I’ve never heard him perform. An extra treat for this R.E.M. fan.

Tonya and Tammy–those amazing York sisters–put on a hell of an event. The entertainment is awesome. I love hearing John Elefante singing some of my Kansas favorites just as I love reconnecting with him and his lovely wife Michelle.

Meanwhile, I’m bidding on my phone–eyes on the prize.

Then Mike takes the stage, straps on a guitar, and wow. Just wow. I love he does Don’t Go Back To Rockville–that’s where my pal JoAnne grew up, and I grew up basically next-door in Silver Spring. It’s amazing to hear him do I Am Superman, a song I’ve sung along to countless times.

It makes me think just how blessed I am to be here.

I even win three of my bids. Woo!

Before we leave we boogie to Skip Martin from Kool And The Gang. Yeah, Celebrate!

Tumble into bed. Sleep like a rock.

Another workout for the good girls in the morning before we start duding up for the Big Day. It’s going to rain, we’ll just have to deal with that. Plus, I have my new topper and scarf!

We look damn good.

Derby ensemble

Brian’s waiting, and it’s off to the track. We like to get there early because BET! HORSES! THE DOWNS!

It’s a little drizzly, but not bad, and nothing, really nothing, can spoil my first look at that gorgeous track, that rich brown oval, the white spires, the green, green grass of the infield.

Champagne on ice, hugs to our servers Amy and Kim–and let’s get those bets in. I bet on the third race. It will be the first of only two times through the days I don’t cash a ticket.

The gang’s all here

I am hot! I have a streak going as more people come in, as we meet and greet and exchange tactics, take pictures, eat, drink, bet.

So many pretty outfits, so many pretty hats!

Yes, it rains off and on, but it’s Derby Day and the energy is high and happy.

BW and Nora

I stick with my strategy (don’t mess with a streak) of just betting across the board. No fancy stuff. I always bet the gray if one’s in the field, otherwise I go by names that strike me. Or an Irish horse if one’s running. For whatever reason, it’s working for me. My pal Jo is a complicated better. Trifectas, exactas, supers, boxes. I have a hard time figuring out how to do any of that anyway.

More champagne, and now there are cookies! And lots of what’s your pick, who did you bet? Some table hopping. We have Mike and Jasmine and Skip at our–it makes for a lot of happy.

It’s building to that time, and the rain doesn’t want to quit. It’s not the deluge we had last year, so that’s something. I’ve picked horses for my kids–and some of the grandkids sent me names they liked. To avoid the mad rush of the Derby race, I’ve placed those bets through the day, tucked the tickets away in my purse.

Nora, JoAnne and Larry

You can feel the pulse of the room quicken as post time approaches. Everyone crowds out on the terrace when they play My Old Kentucky home. It’s a moment, always a moment, as is the roar of thousands at the end.

The favorite was scratched Wednesday night, so the field’s pretty wide open. Another horse scratched Friday, I think it was. Watching the horses and riders circle the field is magic. The excitement builds, builds, builds as they’re loaded into the gate.

And in a fingersnap, they’re off.

Stunning, always stunning. A sensory overload of sight and sound. The ocean roar of the crowd, the thunder of hooves, the slop of the track flying, and those colorful silks in the gloomy light. I can never keep track of the horses I bet on, not in that blur of strength and beauty. I honestly never care by that point.

Seven crosses first as the crowd cheers and cheers. I realize I have some money on seven, so that’s nice.

But there’s been a foul called–two riders called foul on seven. Hold your tickets. It had to be an endless, stressful wait for the jockeys, the trainers, the owners. Eventually seven was disqualified for swerving out of his lane, nearly causing a pile up. Not intentional, it just happened.

Country House–a 65-1 long shot (and one I nearly tossed a little bet at) wins the Derby. That bumps Tacitus–number 8–into third. I had some money on him, and picked him for Jason. So we both won a bit. Next time I think: Well, I live in a country house, I should put ten across the board there, I damn well will!

We say goodbye to some of our Derby pals until next year. We always stay for the last races–bet, yes, but also traffic.

I hit on the 13th race, and nicely, thank you.

On the last race there are three grays. Well, it’s the last race, bet them all. Jo and BW decide to follow me on that one. And Jo does another bet adding #5 for I think it’s a super.

We go out to watch while the place empties out. Watch the horses–and those three pretty grays head to the gate. Hear that clang for the last time today, watch them run. And holy crap, look at those grays!

This is unexpected! All three run like the wind, and all three come in. Win, Place, Show. I end the day with a surprising and substantial win. And Jo? She hit the super as #5 came in fourth. A crescendo to our operatic day at the track.

Amazing and wonderful, start to finish.

Back to the hotel for some food, some unwinding. Bed.

Up to pack–always more going home than coming in. The sun, at last is fighting through the clouds. Mom checks–two or three times–on the suite.

Sara and Brian wait to haul us all back to the airport.

And it’s goodbye to Louisville after a whirlwind three days that put so many good memories in the bank. I hope all my Derby pals have a fantastic year.

See you all next May!


36 thoughts on “Win, Place, Show”

  1. What a fun time you all had!!! Its a good thing to leave your nest once in a while…good friends, some glitz, excitement, and of course a little stress relief from the “drama”. Just got home from my own ” life hiatus “. Memories made…check!

  2. Whew! I think I need a nap just from reading all that. Glad the weather didn’t spoil your fun. Thanks for taking us a long.

  3. What a wonderful weekend! Your descriptions make me feel like I went along. I could almost hear the thundering hooves and the roar of the crowd. And congrats on your betting wins – what fun!

  4. Sounds like you all had a wonderful time!! Glad you had so much fun and thanks for sharing. Your stories always put a smile on my face

  5. So excited to read your fantastic time. Always look forward to reading and seeing your outfits, as your words make one feel like they are right there watching! Everyone looked great. I just loved your outfit and wonderful hat! BW had some really classy derby shoes!!! Really cool!!

  6. Wowsa! That’s some time y’all had. Congrats on the wins, nails and goodies. I LOVE living vicariously through you Nora.

  7. I always look forward to Nora’s Derby recap. I have it on my ‘to do list’ but until then I shall live vicariously thru Nora…my mom picked Country House too but didn’t bet…would’ve been a nice windfall for sure!

    Next I want to hear Nora’s opinion of Avengers: Endgame!

  8. I love your Derby sharing! You paint such a wonderful picture that I can feel the rain and hear the crowd. Glad you had a big winning streak and thank you for sharing the memories.

  9. Sounds like you had another spectacular time at the Derby! Loved the Phantom of the Opera mask – added some mystique. Your outfits were stunning – I was waiting to see a picture of your lady hands, but enjoyed reading of the fun you had. Until next year.

  10. I love that you and BW were color coordinated, and your friends were color coordinated. I don’t know if you do that every year, but you all looked fabulous! Bright colors make a rainy day cheerier! After all you’ve been dealing with lately with the plagiarism issue, you really deserved a fun weekend!

  11. Love, love this blog…You looks so gorgeous and match BW so well….glad you did win some, but so sad that #7 got disqualified…we were all discussing that here at home in Blairsville…still can’t figure out why as he seemed to be in the running the whole way…..oh well!!!

    Hope you had better weather for your trip back home! Look forward to future blogs and more baby pictures of Griffin

  12. Thank you for sharing with all of us. Such a fun time! And you guys are model ready! I watched on tv but you never get the excitement that you do in person. I was really sorry when the first place horse was disqualified, he ran first the whole way. Felt bad for the jockey. But life, as they say.

  13. Glad you had a great time. You and BW look great in all the pictures.

  14. Thanks for the update! Going to the Derby is on my bucket list, so until I can go, I appreciate the chance to see it through your eyes.
    Also, I love your butterfly dress, Nora!

  15. Thank you for the recap! Your outfit on Derby Day was outstanding…especially the shoes!

  16. What a great time you gave us all! Loved all your outfits, but you really rocked the Derby outfit – takes a special someone to pull off orange and be older than five! You looked spectacular! Many thanks for sharing.

  17. I look forward every year to your Derby pictures and recap! How fun for you and BW to go. Thanks for sharing with us. And mentioning BW, his shoes were great for the Derby too!!!

  18. As always, thank you for sharing. You always make me feel I’m there. ♡

  19. As a Louisvillian, my heart always swells with pride when I read your Derby blog. I’m so glad you had a great time here, and maybe next year the sun will shine bright!

  20. Loved seeing Nora last year at Unbridled Eve, I couldn’t do it this year, it’s beyond my pocket but I looked around to see if you were around on the Friday as I work next door. I’ve never been to Derby, maybe one year. It looked a bit damp again though and full of controversy this year. Hope to see you next year in my home town. Glad you had fun

  21. Sounds like a wonderful weekend. I probably look forward to reading your Derby blogs as much as you love living them. Thanks so much! Beltane Blessings!

  22. The derby was really in the news because of the foul. It sounds like you really had a good time. You certainly deserve it with all you recently went through. I’m happy for you.

  23. Sounds like a very busy exciting weekend! You look beautiful in orange what a great hat! Going to have to try your “bet the gray” rule next time I am at the races!

  24. Thanks for sharing your fun weekend! I have my Derby t-shirt I bought while visiting family in Kentucky a few weeks ago, but that’s as close as I will ever get to the big race. Your description of everything Derby brings it all to life!

  25. I feel like I was there! What a glorious time! Life at it’s best! Thanks for sharing!

  26. What a wonderful break away from the daily routine. Thanks for taking the time to share it with us. Congrats on the win.

  27. Another Derby post fan. Thanks for taking us on the “ride” with you. Love the pics you share. AWESOME hat this year!!!!!!

  28. As soon as I realized it was Derby weekend my brain immediately said “oh cool, can’t wait to read Nora’s tales of the weekend” …thank you so much for continuing to let us live vicariously through your love escapades!

    1. …well, I meant to type “lovely” would not presume to know anything about anyone’s love escapades!

  29. First ✋! I miss Kat ? we always have more pictures when Kat is on board of the fun-filled-of-beauty-and-positive-energy Derby weekend.

    You might have left Kentucky with Lady Hands but those twelve-years’-old-feet don’t lie – it’s really you ?

    And May I say that you are more than Red Carpet Ready. You give those “celebrities” of your Country a lesson on looking elegant, classy and still sparkle and shine. BW is a L of a date for the red carpet ?

    Could never understand what the fuss was about derby – don’t mind me I’m not ?? – until I started looking forward for THIS travelogue. And your impressions while enjoying the people, the rhythms, the fun year after year. You, the “Shiny Happy People” (REM)

    Meet me in the crowd, people, people
    Throw your love around, love me, love me
    Take it into town, happy, happy

    Thank your for sharing ❤️ Cory Mann isn’t so far off when assuming it as a love escapade. It always is ?. For you and for all of us waiting to see how you looked, to know who you met… and to crave “True Betrayals”

  30. Went racing myself this past Saturday (11th), went straight from work so missed the first race but got to watch the second and see a young lady on her first ever race day ride come form near last to win a tight finish, a head covering the first 3 places, she went on to win the last race as well. I also pick the greys in a race because they’re the most easily seen.

  31. Nora, I swear you have an uncanny ability to draw people into your story! Thanks for taking me to the Derby, treating me to a manicure, planting the song “Celebration” in my head, and flying me home. The only thing missing was a worthy hat!

  32. Coordinated all the way down to socks and sunglasses!! I can’t even imagine being so ‘together.’ Hahaha! Love it!

Comments are closed.